So there has been a lot of talk about understudies recently and how they can be over looked and under-appreciated. I personally LOVE an understudy! I will often go out of my way to see an understudy, many of my favourite performers have come onto my radar because I have seen them covering a leading role and many people currently playing leading roles started their onstage journeys as understudies.
One person I would like to talk about in-particular is Lucy Jane Adcock. I originally knew of Lucy when I saw A Chorus Line for the for first time back in 2013. We went during previews and Lucy was one of a few covers on, she was covering, what is arguably the leading female role, Cassie. This was the first time Lucy had been on and I was blown away by her performance. Her energy on stage was incredible and she delivered the role perfectly.
As I didn’t have a comparison, I went again to see the show a few weeks later, hoping to see Scarlett Strallen, but once again Lucy was on covering the role, her second time playing the role. Once again I was left speechless with her performance. I went onto see her many times playing this role and each time she gave it her all. She played the role fragile when needed and pulled out the determined fiestyness needed for the confrontational scenes with Zach. Her dancing during The Music and The Mirrors was faultless and the passion she put into that role was incredible.
Lucy then went onto do Happy Days: A New Musical on tour, where she covered for 2 leading roles, Mrs Cunningham (Played by Cheryl Baker) and Pinkie (Playing by Heidi Range). Lucy got on for both of these roles at different points of the tour, at one show having to step in midway through. Unfortunately I only managed to see her playing Mrs C, but she did an incredible job of this, and from what I have read and heard she also did an equally impressive job covering Pinkie, despite some disgruntled fans at one particular venue.
She then returned to the westend and joined the cast of Matilda. In this show she, once again, covered 2 female lead roles (1st cover Mrs Wormwood, 2nd cover Mrs Phelps). She was lucky enough to get on a play both roles on several occasions.
Lucy then joined the cast of Guys & Dolls, as ensemble and first cover Miss Adelaide, opening first in Manchester before coming to the Savoy Theatre and then going off on tour. Although they then extended the westend run and moved to The Phoenix and most of the cast stayed with this production. During the run at the Savoy, Sophie Thompson was extremely reliable and didn’t take a single day off, meaning Lucy never got on, however when the tour cast was announced it was also announced the Louise Dearman (Tour Adelaide) would not be performing for the first Saturday of the tour and only doing it for around a month (although it was later announced Louise would have a months gap before returning to the show to finish the tour). Despite Lucy never actually being on to play the track the company had faith in her and asked her to go to Liverpool and cover for Louise on that Saturday. I have friends who were at the show that day and said she was incredible and performed like a leading lady and, had they not have known, they would not have said it was her first time. Baring in mind she was with a completely new cast than she had been use to performing/rehearsing with. Now to bring me back to title of this post ‘When an understudy becomes the lead’ Lucy is now playing the leading role of Miss Adelaide on tour.
Another example of this is Emma Hatton. I first saw Emma during her first year in We Will Rock You, when she was second cover Scaramouche. I saw her playing the role on her first performance and she was brilliant. She then went on to become 1st cover Scara and 1st cover Meat, playing Meat equally as beautiful. After leaving WWRY Emma went on to join the cast of Wicked as Stand-By Elphaba and is now currently playing the principal full time.
Also Amy Lennox, I saw her first as Margot in Legally Blonde, where she was 1st cover Elle Woods, a role I also saw her play. She was then given the role of Elle for 2 weeks, in Aberdeen on the tour. She is now playing a main role in one of the biggest shows currently in town (Kinky Boots for anyone that doesn’t know lol) And whilst we are on the topic of Kinky Boots, Killian Donnelly (Who was nominated for an Olivier for his role in Kinky, as was Amy Lennox) also started out as a cover, Les Mis being one of the biggest shows around and Amy Ross who was 1st cover Elle Woods on the UK Tour.
So basically my point is, when people are moaning about the fact they have to sit through the understudy, maybe they should remember a few things, 1. That person would not have been entrusted with being a cover for that role if they weren’t able to go out and perform the role. 2. One day that same person may just be the lead you are seeing in a show. 3. Sometimes the understudy maybe more to your personal tastes and you may actually end up enjoying them more than the person you thought you were going to see in the first place. 4. Think of that person who is having to go on and cover, especially if they are covering for a “name”, whilst you are tutting and booing in the auditorium and complaining all over social media. These people probably have a hard enough time knowing that people in the audience are going to be disappointed to not be seeing the “star”.
Just sit back, enjoy the show that is being performed in front of you and appreciate the performers who are on stage, instead of spending the whole show bitter about the ones that aren’t!